Every state handles dog bite laws and liability a little differently. Some are more forgiving of dogs and their owners, some hold owners to strict liability of all injuries related to their dog’s actions. Here in California, the laws tend toward owner liability. Pet owners are, in general, legally responsible for the actions of their pets, and the consequences of those actions. This means that victims of dog-related injuries usually have strong legal grounds to hold the owners or caretakers of the dog liable for the damage. It also means that the legal defenses for dog owners are very clearly defined.
If you or someone you know has recently been injured as the result of a dog’s actions — bite or otherwise — then it’s important to consider your legal options for a liability claim. And if you are facing a dog bite suit, it can help to understand the strict liability laws that California upholds.
California strict owner liability vs the ‘one bite’ standard
In other states, dog bite liability is defined using the ‘one bite’ rule. A dog is only considered to be dangerous after it has already bitten a person or presented aggressive behavior at least once before.
In California, according to California Civil Code section 3342, the one-bite rule does not apply and owners are held to strict liability should their dogs cause the injury of another person or damage to their property.
This means that civil liability cases can be taken out against dog owners or caretakers even if the dog has no past history of aggression or biting.
However, there are special rules for dogs that have already been deemed dangerous. Owners of dogs who have bitten or shown aggressive behavior before have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to remove risks or danger to others.
All dog bites must be reported immediately to the local SPCA. The SPCA will take appropriate action to quarantine the responsible dog. Dog bites in California also encompass a very special type of law known as “strict liability.” This means that if a dog bites an individual, the owner is strictly liable regardless of the circumstances. This is true in most instances.
The owner of a dog is liable to anyone bitten by their dog that is in a public place, or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s property regardless of whether the dog has ever bit anyone before and regardless of whether the owner knew the dog had bitten anyone before.
The requirements to file a dog bite injury lawsuit
In order to file a lawsuit against the owner of a dog, the injury must conform to a few specific legal guidelines. This helps to prevent malicious fraud targeting dog owners by inciting a dog bite, then filing a claim. The requirements for Santa Cruz dog bite cases also help to define when a person has provoked a dog or gained their injury through unlawful behavior.
These three primary requirements also allow California dog owners to train their pets to defend property and even for the dogs to defend themselves. Victims can only file claims if they were bitten while lawfully and peaceably present near the dog. If your dog bite instance falls under all three requirements, then you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the owner or caretaker of the dog in question.
The victim was lawfully located when bitten (not trespassing)
First, the victim of the dog bite or attack must have been in a place they are legally allowed to be at the time of the attack. In a public area, on a sidewalk or street, or on privately owned property are all examples of places where a victim might lawfully be located. As a guest on someone else’s private property or during authorized hours at your place of work would also be relevant. Anywhere you are legally allowed to be will be considered a lawful location for a dog bite suit.
However, if the victim is trespassing in any way, a dog attack might not be subject to a liability suit. Closed areas after hours, other people’s homes without invitation, residential and commercial private property are all examples of places that might render your dog bite suit invalid. There may be some debate if warning or trespassing signs were not clearly posted, so the victim may not have known they were trespassing.
This rule allows California dog owners to train dogs to protect their property. If a person is trespassing and comes across a guard dog, they have no right to claim liability if attacked. But this is also true of dogs and owners who are not directly connected to protecting the property trespassed upon.
The victim was acting peaceably near the dog
The second requirement is that the victim of the dog bite attack be acting peaceably. This means behaving in a calm, civilized, and non-threatening manner. It is well known that dogs can overreact to someone playing, jumping around, or shouting near them. dogs can become dangerously excited when humans act erratically. Therefore, it is not legally considered the dog’s fault if a person was acting in a non-peaceable way near them and was attacked.
This rule also applies when humans near the dog are being attacked. Many owners train their dogs to defend themselves and their families. Many more dogs simply respond to centuries of selective breeding by biting (or even just jumping on) anyone who becomes violent or erratic. Again, non-peaceable behavior can invalidate dog bite liability.
For victims who are attacked while walking, sitting, and talking normally, the clause of peaceability is satisfied. Anyone acting in a calm and civilized fashion in a lawful place should not have to worry about being attacked by dogs and the owners will be held liable.
The victim did not provoke the dog
Finally, it is required that the victim not have provoked the dog. Taunting a dog with treats or sticks, poking or kicking a dog, and yelling at a dog are all examples of provocation. Tempting the dog to bite you with play actions then claiming liability is also not permitted in the California court of law. No matter how favorable the laws may be for legitimate victims.
This requirement is to protect dogs and their owners from scam artists willing to take a dog bite for a few thousand dollars in settlement. It’s very wrong, but there are some people who would provoke a dog to violence, then blame the dog and owner for the result. The California court is built to protect victims of true animal violence while protecting animals and owners from liability scams at the same time.
Protection from counter suits
If you’ve been bitten by a dog, you have a right to sue for the cost of medical treatment and recovery from that injury. However, dog owners sometimes file frivolous counter-suits to discourage injury claims. They may claim you were trespassing or acting unsafely to nullify your claim against the dog.
These claims are designed to dodge responsibility. Fortunately, you can defend yourself from these claims with the help of an experienced dog bite attorney.
Do you need a Santa Cruz dog bite attorney?
Have you recently been attacked by a dog while lawfully and peacefully acting near the animal? Has someone you know been recently injured?
Before you decide what to do next, remember that the statute of limitations for dog bite and injury cases is only 2 years after the event of the injury. After that point, no lawsuit can be claimed even if the result of the injuries lasts much longer.
For an informed consultation on what a dog bite attorney can do for you, contact us today! Our legal team is ready to help. –